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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

January 6th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 2 Comments · Life

Only I couple of weeks ago I was pouring scorn on a set of meaningless statistics, and now there is another set which is not as bad but which says the opposite.

The first statistics were from a dubious survey by an Internet job site which got picked up by the Argus and said, amongst other things, that salaries in Crawley had dropped by £6,000 a year to be about £8,000 below average earnings for the country.  The new set of statistics say, according to the Crawley News of Dec 26th, that Crawley is “the fifth-highest earning spot in the UK”.

They can’t both be right, but I suspect they are actually both wrong.  The first survey is more wrong, being based on a small sample of jobs advertised and implying that they are representative of all jobs.

The new one looks a lot more believable, based on better data, and done on computers instead of the back of a fag packet, but its still advisable to look behind the headlines before getting too excited about it.

As we saw from a brief examination of ONS data, residents of Horsham earn, on average, significantly more than residents of Crawley, but they are not in the top four above Crawley because they are not in the list at all.  The Centre for Cities study only covers 59 ‘cities’, and its not clear exactly what criteria are used to define what gets in there.

The only places in Sussex which are included are Brighton, Worthing, Crawley and Hastings.  Chichester is not there despite being officially a city.  The real story should not be what Crawley’s positions in the various league tables are but the fact that it is included at all!

The list of places which are deemed less worthy to have in the study includes Stevenage, Basildon, Guildford,  Bracknell, Basingstoke, Exeter, Chesterfield, Dover, Winchester, Ashford, Salisbury, Sevenoaks, Maidstone, Lancaster, Chelmsford, Colchester, Gateshead and Harrogate.

So when the Crawley News says that Crawley is the “fifth richest in the UK” it should really say that earnings are fifth in a list of 59 places.  The nature of averages being what they are, there will be plenty of much smaller places with much higher earnings – like every town in Surrey probably or any villages with a population of a thousand containing a few stockbrokers or hedge fund managers and 900+ people on the poverty line.

But it can’t said often enough – don’t trust statistics and don’t let averages obscure real need.   The survey says that Crawley ranks high not only in income but also in equality and employment levels.  I’m sure it does, but if you happen to be one of those on a minimum-wage income or unable to find work, being told that everyone else in your area is doing very well thank you is not a great consolation.

Lets put it this way, if I was in a room with Roman Abramovich and a local homeless person I would not expect them (the homeless person) to be overjoyed by knowing that the average net worth of our little group was well into the billions of pounds.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Danivon

    I looked into this one as it was mentioned on the Maidenbower Forum as well.

    The report itself is pretty vague, particularly when it comes to the sources for its figures. And of course, the News used the wrong meaning of ‘average’ in it’s reporting, but that’s a common mistake that many people make, even seasoned journalists.

    But it does seem that Crawley is doing pretty well compared to many large towns/cities on economic indicators.

  • Skuds

    Is that still going? 😉

    Indeed. As I said, the very fact Crawley is part of the sample says a lot about the prospects of the town- and the surrounding area as there are knock-on effects.

    Look at the recent planning applications on the CBC website and you will find an application to knock down the office block behind Astral Towers and replace it with three new blocks and a multi-storey car park.

    The scheme is supposed to cram an extra 900+ jobs (Woo hoo) on the site with room for an extra 400+ cars (d’oh).

    Someone has faith in the area as a location for economic growth and its an indication that the second survey is closer to the truth than the first.